Earth in Human Hands: A Cosmic View of Our Planet’s Past, Present and Future

Helen Hill for EAPS News
Friday, April 7, 2017

Your second chance to watch the 2017 William F. Brace Lecture given by astrobiologist and award-winning science communicator David Grinspoon.

Earth in Human Hands: A Cosmic View of Our Planet’s Past, Present and Future

For anyone interested in planetary science, and concerned with the effect humankind is having on Earth, David Grinspoon's March 21st lecture "Earth in Human Hands: A Cosmic View of Our Planet’s Past, Present and Future" provided a somber and compelling, though ultimately optimistic, discourse on where things stand and where our civilization can go from here.

Grinspoon, who is an astrobiologist, award-winning science communicator, and prize-winning author, is a senior scientist at the Planetary Science Institute, and adjunct professor of astrophysical and planetary science at the University of Colorado. In 2013 he was the first to chair of the department of astrobiology at the U.S. Library of Congress, where he studied the impact of humans on Earth systems, and held a public symposium on the Longevity of Human Civilization. He is also involved with several interplanetary spacecraft missions for NASA, the European Space Agency, and the Japanese Space Agency.

In his talk, based on his recently published, award winning book by the same name Earth in Human Hands, Grinspoon illuminated the unusual nature of the “Anthropocene,” our current time of human-driven planetary changes, in order to reframe our environmental predicaments as part of a larger narrative of planetary evolution.

"It is widely recognized that this saga has now reached the pivotal moment when humans have become a major agent of global change, and geological and human history are becoming irreversibly conjoined. Is this a likely or even inevitable challenge facing other complex life in the universe?" Grinspoon asks.

Earth in Human Hands, was named a "best science book of 2016" by NPR's Science Friday, and Grinspoon's talk included many ideas and readings from it, asking, and discussing, what we are doing here on this planet, and if a deep-time and deep-space viewpoint might help us gain the perspective to create a sustainable civilization.

This lecture was part of the MIT Department of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences (EAPS) William F. Brace Lecture Series and honors the legacy of "legend in rock physics" and former EAPS Department Head Bill Brace, who passed away in 2012. The William F Brace Lecture is an annual all-department event at which a distinguished visitor from outside MIT is invited to speak on a subject of contemporary interest in earth, atmospheric or planetary science. The lecture is intended for the wider MIT/ Boston-Cambridge community, but with a particular goal of drawing in those who want to learn about "hot topics" in earth and planetary science.

If you would like to ensure the longevity of the William F. Brace Lecture Series, please consider making a gift to the William F. Brace Lecture Fund in EAPS by clicking here and choosing the William F. Brace Lecture Fund: or by contacting Angela Ellis, EAPS Senior Development Officer at 617-253-5796 or

The William F. Brace Memorial Lecture Series

Bill Brace matriculated at MIT in 1943, earned a PhD (from Course XII) in 1953, and retired in 1988.  During these 45 years he left the Institute only for short periods of time, for instance for duty in the Navy, a postdoctoral fellowship at Harvard, and a sabbatical or two. Bill Brace was Department Head from 1981 to 1988. Among his many accomplishments in this role was the merger in 1983 of Course XII (Earth and Planetary Sciences) with Course XIX (Meteorology and Physical Oceanography) to form the Department of Earth, Atmospheric, and Planetary Sciences (EAPS) as we know it today. During this tenure he recruited many faculty members who all became leaders of their fields — including Brian Evans, John Grotzinger (the inaugural Brace Lecturer), Kip Hodges, Tom Jordan, Marcia McNutt, Dan Rothman, Wiki Royden, and Jack Wisdom. Furthermore, he initiated the Thursday faculty meetings with free lunch, a tradition that we still enjoy today and which has become a core place for interaction of the faculty, lecturers, and senior research staff.

This series was established to honor Bill Brace's deep and lasting legacy as the first Head of EAPS, and its speakers will reflect the full disciplinary diversity of the Department.  

The William F Brace Lecture is an annual all-department event with the speaker nomination/selection process handled by the Department Lecture Series Committee.


Spiraling Around Earthquakes EAPS News (2015 Brace Lecture)

Got Curiosity EAPS News (2014 Brace Lecture)

Bill Brace, Former Department Head, dies at 86 EAPS News


Photos from the event, and the reception that followed, can be viewed via EAPS Flickr photostream